Rediscovering Sabbath: Our Need to Unplug
“They picked up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple” (John 8:59).
The Information Age is over. Some call it the “Shift Age,” and others, the “Experience Age.” Perhaps it is the Misinformation Age or the Post Truth Age. Such abundance of information exists, so much so that we all feel dizzy trying to sort through it all. But perhaps, our culture feels that it does not even matter any more. We are the makers of truth, the world exclaims. We are redefining reality, morality, and humanity. In all this frenzy, how can anyone know God? How can we know truth? There is only one way. We have to get in the habit of unplugging from the system, of taking Sabbaths, and retuning our hearts.
Our Sunday Scriptures reach a climax on Passion Sunday. Two weeks before Pascha, we read about the clash between Christ and the leaders of Jerusalem. Our gospels have been building up to this all through Lent. Christ has been gradually revealing Himself to the world. First, he was baptized. Then, he was ushered off into the desert to pray. From that moment began a ministry of healing and preaching. At last, Christ reveals himself to be God.
“Before Abraham was, I am.”
Jesus Christ is Yahweh. He is the eternal one: the “I am that I am.” He declares this boldly to Jerusalem. It was like a flash of light, so brilliant, that it cast light on everything lurking in the nooks and corners. Before, the crowd seemed like decent chaps. They were the religious leaders, the community builders, or else the ordinary, respectable citizens. The more Christ revealed the power of God, the more tension built up. Finally, he unveils himself. Something clicks. The crowd sneers. They pick up stones. They had preached about God for years. Now, they see him face to face, and they want to kill him.
What goes on in the heart? What lies beneath our words and convictions, in the gut, in the inner man? How do we know truth? How is it that some believe in God so steadfastly? He is a concrete reality to them. He is close and real like breath and water. For others, God is an idea, distant or impossible. Why is it that some saw Jesus and fell down in adoration. Others saw him and felt nothing. Others still, looked at Jesus and hated him vehemently.
It is no different today. There is so much stirring in our hearts. There are so many opinions, so many perspectives and attitudes. Everything is shouting different so-called “truths.” Everything is proselytizing. Everything is vying for our attention. What can we make of it all? How can we know Truth — real Truth?
“Which of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God” (John 8:46).
Christ answers our questions. Whoever is “from God” hears the “words of God.” Whoever is made of the stuff of God knows Truth. There is an old adage that you are what you eat. How true this is. This came home to me once when a friend of mine was really getting into carrot juice. He was on a health craze, and he actually drank so much carrot juice that his skin began turning carrot-orange. The same principle applies to our soul. We are what we “eat” spiritually. Whatever our soul drinks in, whatever it is that we are giving our attention to most, what we spend our time soaking in, that becomes the stuff of our soul. This determines whether or not we are from God and can hear God.
Have you ever taken a log of your week? You know, marking down the time you spend in different activities — surfing youtube channels, flipping through facebook pages, or sitting in front of the television, as well as the time you sit saying the Jesus Prayer, studying scripture, or simply listening to crickets. What are we absorbing through the week? With what are we feeding our soul?
“Their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. They have mouths, but cannot speak; they have eyes, but cannot see…Those who make them become like them, as do all who trust in them” (Psalm 115:4-8).
How much are we plugged into the world? Jean-Claude Larchet, the Orthodox theologian, refers to modern man as homo connecticus. It is so true. We are ever-plugged into the system. Like a feeding tube, our media and television feed us a continual vision of reality. I did a google search of homo connecticus, and I was surprised to find that it has become a common phrase. Many scientists talk about it as the new stage of human evolution. Rapidly developing technologies and human augmentation possibilities will make homo connecticus an ever fixed and absolute way of being.
What are we becoming? From what are we cutting ourselves off?
We have to start unplugging. We need to rediscover the Sabbath.
God created the heavens and the earth in six days. On the seventh day, “He rested from all His work which He had done” (Genesis 2:2). God instituted the Law of the Sabbath to forever set his people apart. No matter how much we intermingle with and live in the world, we need times to step back from it all. We have to cut off completely, for one day every week, and in all those scattered moments through each day. We need to re-learn the art of rest.
“The Sabbath has largely been forgotten,” one author comments about American Christians. “The Sabbath has largely been forgotten by the Church, which has uncritically mimicked the rhythms of the industrial and success-obsessed West. The result? Our road-weary, exhausted churches have largely failed to integrate Sabbath into their lives as vital elements of Christian discipleship. It is not as though we do not love God — we love God deeply. We just do not know how to sit with God anymore…We have become perhaps the most emotionally exhausted, psychological overworked, spiritually malnourished people in history” (A. J. Swoboda).
Jesus Christ lived the Sabbath. No one has ever been so busy. No one has ever had work so pressing. Yet, he regularly slipped away from everyone and went up a mountain to pray. Sometimes he lingered behind, and they found him wandering in the desert or walking on the lake. On Sabbath, Jesus Christ rested from all work. He relaxed. He enjoyed hours reclining on couches, drinking wine with his disciples, and simply letting conversations weave in and out without any agenda. Jesus took breaks from the world. So must we.
We live in a challenging world. However challenging it is, one thing remains the same, Jesus Christ. “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). Jesus is still with us. Jesus is in the Sabbath. As soon as we step back, he is there. The minute we shut off our iPhones and sit quietly, we find him. The instant we turn off the newsfeed and unplug our computers, in that silence, in that solitude, we hear his word. When we step outside, when we sit on a bench, when we just look around at the trees, the birds, and the clouds, the hubris of this world becomes smaller. It is all vacuous. Jesus is the reality. If we live ever-plugged into the world, our hearts will have nothing in them but the world. If we learn to unplug, we can be filled up again with God. No longer homo connecticus, we become homo adorans, beings of worship, children of God.